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A Usable Past

Disturbances at Manchester!, illustration by Atkins, 1819 © Mary Evans Picture Library

On Saturday 16 August 1919 a centenary procession formed at Albert Square in central Manchester. Marchers held banners aloft in the afternoon sun. ‘Labour is the Source of All Wealth’, said one; another ‘Peterloo, 1819: Labourloo, 1919’. Processing south, the crowd headed to the Free Trade Hall – a building erected on the ground where, on 16 August 1819, the Manchester and Salford Yeomanry Cavalry had violently broken up a popular reform demonstration.

In reverence to the reformers who died at Peterloo, banners were dipped and hats were removed. The French Revolutionary anthem, La Marseillaise, rang out, followed by the Red Flag: ‘The people’s flag is deepest red / It shrouded oft our Martyred dead.’

Joseph Cozens | Published 14 August 2019
More articles by Joseph Cozens
Published in
Volume 69 Issue 8 August 2019

It Can't Happen Here

Laura O'Brien | Published 06 August 2019
It is difficult to forget a work of history that begins with a discussion of the author’s dental history and ends with a reflection on the beret as symbol of the Vichy regime in France. Perhaps that is why Richard Cobb’s French and Germans, Germans and French has stuck with me ever since I first read it as an undergraduate student. Out of print since it was first published in 1983, this unique study of the lived experience of occupation in France during two World Wars has been reissued as a handsome paperback in Penguin’s ‘Modern Classics’ series. French and...Read more »
More articles by Laura O'Brien

Orpheus and Eurydice

A Classical myth of enduring love that has inspired artists, writers and composers for centuries.

Orpheus and Eurydice, hand in hand, walk away from the fiery underworld and its deities, Pluto and Proserpine. Orpheus, singer, musician and poet, carrying a lyre on his shoulder, had recently married Eurydice, but on the day of their wedding, ‘in the very bloom of her life’, she was bitten by a viper and died of its venom. Distraught with grief, Orpheus descended into the underworld determined to restore her to mortality. He pleaded with Pluto and Proserpine for her return and his eloquence ‘melted the hearts of the gods and the denizens of the underworld, and all fell silent’. Even Cerberus, the fierce three-headed dog that guards the gates of Hell, lies meekly at Proserpine’s feet.

The gods agreed to Eurydice’s return: Proserpine no doubt sympathetic as she recalled her own forceful abduction by Pluto. The only caveat was that Orpheus must not glance back at Eurydice until she was safely ensconced in the upper world. If he broke his word, she would descend once again into Hell.

In Peter Paul Rubens’ painting, Orpheus is depicted struggling to look ahead soon after the deities have consented to her return. On leaving the underworld, the lovers ascended a steep and misty path and, as they neared the earth’s rim, an anxious Orpheus looked behind for his bride, who fell and murmured a final farewell before dying again. ‘No reproach passed her lips’, according to Ovid in his Metamorphoses, because Eurydice now knew for certain that Orpheus loved her unconditionally.

The History of the Barbecue

A Native American method of tenderising meat goes global.

Native Americans cook fish in an engraving from A brief and true Report of the New Found Land of Virginia by Thomas Harriot, 1590 © Bridgeman Images

Lockhart, Texas has plenty of reasons to feel proud. With its unique collection of 19th-century buildings, it is one of the prettiest towns in Caldwell County – and a favourite of Hollywood producers. More than 50 films have been made there, from Baby, the Rain Must Fall (1968), starring Steve McQueen and Lee Remick, to Clint Eastwood’s acclaimed drama A Perfect World (1993). But what really makes locals puff out their chests is the barbecue. Ever since Jesse Swearingen opened Lockhart’s first meat market in 1875, the town has been famous for its barbecued beef and sausages, usually served with saltine crackers, onions and pickles. Every year, its four restaurants welcome more than 250,000 diners from around the world; and in 1999, Lockhart was officially named the ‘Barbecue Capital of Texas’.


Salt, pepper, spice
The secret is in the smoke. Generally rubbed with nothing more than salt, pepper and a few spices, the meat is cooked slowly over a smouldering bed of oak and mesquite wood, often for hours at a time. This gives it a distinctively sweet, smoky flavour and makes even the toughest cuts mouth-wateringly tender. It is not the only way of barbecuing.

Meet the Macaronis

During the 1770s there emerged a new type of fashionable fellow: the Macaroni, whose style was frequently and easily lampooned by cartoonists and the media.

‘A macaroni dressing room’, coloured etching by I.W., 26 June 1772.

In the last quarter of the 18th century, an age of extravagant fashions, the style of clothing adopted by the macaronis attracted much contemporary comment. These young men affected great sensibility and were famous for their effeminate dress; they were, in fact, the latest in a long line of young men in the 18th century (and before) who, by exaggerating current styles and trends in dress, started new fashions.

Earlier in the century they had been called 'beaux'; a famous example of this kind of fashionable young man is described in Smollett's novel Roderick Random (1748) where Captain Whiffle:

Overshadowed with a vast umbrella ... dressed in this manner; a white hat garnished with a red feather adorned his head from whence his hair flowed upon his shoulders in ringlets tied behind with ribbon. His coat, consisting of a pink-coloured silk lined with white, by the elegance of the cut retired backwards, as it were, to discover a white satin waistcoat embroidered with gold, unbuttoned at the upper part to display a brooch set with garnets that glittered in the breast of his shirt, which was of the finest cambric edged with right Mechlin. The knees of his crimson velvet breeches scarcely descended so low as to meet his silk stockings which rose without a spot or wrinkle on his meagre legs, from shoes of blue Meroquin, studded with diamond buckles that flamed forth rivals to the sun ... But the most remarkable parts of his furniture were, a mask on his face, and white gloves on his hands which did not seem to be put on with an intention to be pulled off occasionally, but were fixed with a curious ring on the little finger of each hand.

A Liberal History

Liberalism became the dominant ideology of the West when it was adopted by Britain and the United States. But its roots lie elsewhere.

‘March of the Women on Versailles, Paris, 5 October 1789’, 18th-century engraving © Bridgeman Images

Long considered the dominant ideology of the West, liberalism is in crisis. Its principles are in retreat around the world. Populism, authoritarianism and nationalism are on the rise. The Economist recently sounded the alarm: ‘Liberalism made the modern world, but the modern world is turning against it.’ The Economist’s index categorises the United States as a ‘flawed democracy’.

It is not just that liberalism is under attack from its traditional enemies. Voters in the West have begun to doubt that the system works for them. Some say that liberal elites have become complacent. ‘Liberalism’s central problem’, says the Economist, is that it has ‘lost sight of its essential values’. Another problem, however, is rarely discussed: What does ‘liberalism’ actually stand for?

Given its central importance to Western politics, the lack of consensus is strange. For some, liberalism refers to the Lockean idea of individual rights and free markets; for others, it means the welfare state. In many parts of the world, being liberal in colloquial parlance means favouring ‘small government’, while in the US it means favouring ‘big government’. Some speak of a ‘classical liberalism’, which is supposedly more authentic than that of today. How can its ‘essential values’ be recovered when we do not agree on what these are?

The Free Frenchman

A proud, pious aristocrat, loyal to General de Gaulle, Philippe Leclerc found a kindred soul among Britain’s wartime elite.

Charles de Gaulle and Philippe Leclerc during the Liberation of Paris, 1944 © Getty Images

The 40th anniversary of Admiral Lord Mountbatten’s assassination by the Provisional IRA in County Sligo, Ireland falls on 7 August 2019. There was a cruel irony in militant Irish republicans labelling Mountbatten a ‘legitimate target’. As the Allies’ supreme commander in South-East Asia, 1943-46, Mountbatten’s preference was for negotiation rather than confrontation when dealing with anti-colonialist movements.

As India’s last viceroy, he accelerated both independence and Partition in the summer of 1947, albeit at massive human cost. In 1956, by then First Sea Lord, he warned of lasting damage to a fledgling Commonwealth if Britain, along with France and Israel, invaded Egypt in order to seize back the Suez Canal.

What are the Enduring Legacies of the American Civil War?

What did the violence in the bloodiest conflict in US history yield in the postwar era?

Battle of Wilson's Creek, 10th August, 1861 (c.1893)

The Civil War left far too much the same

Susan-Mary Grant, Professor of American History at Newcastle University

In The Gilded Age, the novel that named the postwar era, Mark Twain observed that the Civil War had ‘uprooted institutions that were centuries old, changed the politics of a people, and wrought so profoundly upon the entire national character that the influence cannot be measured short of two or three generations’. This quotation frequently pops up in discussions of the war’s legacy. Yet whatever America’s civil conflict did, it did not uproot centuries-old institutions. At the time of writing, the United States’ centenary as a separate, political state was still three years away.

Twain initiated a tendency to accord the Civil War a more profound legacy than it merits. Largely this tendency revolves around slavery and emancipation in respect of the betrayal of the opportunity that the war provided to secure social, economic and political equality for all. Although the Civil War did expand the power of the American state, increasing the number of federal employees almost tenfold, the power of this state was limited in significant ways. Then, as now, there was often a disconnect between what the law allowed and what the government and the people actually did.

Memories of a Massacre

It is the 200th anniversary of the Peterloo Massacre. How have the events of that day been remembered?

Obverse side of a medal commemorating the Peterloo Massacre, 19th century © Timothy Millett Collection/Bridgeman Images

On Monday 16 August 1819, 60,000 men, women and children gathered for a mass rally in Manchester. They had progressed to St Peter’s Field on the southern edge of the town from the city’s working-class districts and the surrounding textile weaving regions, including Rochdale, Oldham and Stockport. Monday was the traditional day off for handloom weavers and other artisan workers, and the marchers wore their best clothes and symbols to create a festive atmosphere. Samuel Bamford, leading the contingent from the village of Middleton, described the start of their procession:

Twelve of the most decent-looking youths … were placed at the front, each with a branch of laurel held in his hand, as a token of peace; then the colours [banners]: a blue one of silk, with inscriptions in golden letters, ‘Unity and Strength’, ‘Liberty and Fraternity’; a green one of silk, with golden letters, ‘Parliaments Annual’, ‘Suffrage Universal’.

The main speaker, Henry ‘Orator’ Hunt, had travelled 200 miles north from London. Bamford and the other local organisers joined the charismatic speaker on stage to campaign for universal male suffrage and the reform of the parliamentary system.

Travels Through Time #16 – Thomas Cromwell and Anne Boleyn

A plot, a rebellion and a triumph from the life of Thomas Cromwell.

History Today | Published in History Today

Portrait of Thomas Cromwell (detail), by Jacob Houbraken after Hans Holbein (II), 1737-39. Rijksmuseum.

Thomas Cromwell was born c.1485 and died on the scaffold in July 1540. From humble beginnings, he entered Parliament on the strength of his service to Cardinal Wolsey, working his way up in the king’s council and service. By late 1532, he had taken Wolsey’s place as the king’s chief minister. 

Cromwell was clever, driven and ruthless – qualities that have caught the imaginations of novelists and historians for generations as they have attempted to capture his mysterious essence.

In this episode of Travels Through Time, Diarmaid MacCulloch discusses the year of 1536, which saw Cromwell at the peak of his career. As Master of the Rolls and Principal Secretary to the King, he had vast and wide-ranging powers, but he also had enemies, including the king’s wife, Anne Boleyn.

MacCulloch describes the debriefing between Ambassador Eustache Chapuys and Thomas Cromwell on 24 May 1536, following the execution of Anne Boleyn; the moment on 3 October 1536 when the king was told of the Lincolnshire Rising; and the king's procession from Whitehall to Greenwich on 22 December 1536, when it appeared that the king had yielded to all the demands of the Pilgrims of the North.

Diarmaid MacCulloch is a Professor at the University of Oxford and a respected scholar of Tudor England and the Reformation. Last year he published his authoritative Thomas Cromwell: A Life.

This episode of Travels Through Time was recorded live at the Buxton Festival 2019.